ABC 7, WGN-TV win on election night

Toni Preckwinkle (l.) and Lori Lightoot compete to become Chicago’s first African-American female mayor. (Teen Vogue)

Election, R. Kelly, Jussie Smollett stories drive viewers to local stations in February; Super Bowl and Oscars also do their part

After Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel announced he was not running for another term, a huge political shift was in progress with a record fourteen candidates running to replace him (and no, Man Of The People’s Pat Tomasulo wasn’t one of them.) Ad spending on local television was at record levels for a mayoral race, with even the most obscure candidate able to buy commercial time. The top two vote-getters would face off in a general election on April 2, if they didn’t secure more than 50 percent of the vote.

When the dust settled Tuesday, two candidates emerged from the crowded field – current Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle and former Chicago Police Board President Lori Lightfoot. Both are African-American women, meaning Chicago is on the verge of electing a black mayor for the first time since Harold Washington won a second term in 1987, and a female mayor since Jane Byrne upset Michael Blandic in 1979. And if Lightfoot wins, she would become the first gay person to become mayor – a lot of history to be made no matter how you cut it.

Even though voter turnout was low (at 35 percent), viewers did tune in to election coverage provided by Chicago stations, though the results weren’t exactly blockbuster.

According to TV News Mix, ABC’s WLS-TV (ABC 7) won at 10 p.m. Tuesday night with a 8 household rating and 11 share (live plus same-day), doubling its nearest competitor, NBC-owned WMAQ-TV (4.4/8.) Tribune’s WGN-TV finished third in households with 3.1/6 at 10, but finished first in the key 25-54 demo for its coverage beginning at 7 p.m. CBS’ WBBM-TV finished fourth at 10 with a 3/5.

Numbers for Fox-owned WFLD, who began coverage at 9 p.m., were not available.

WGN notwithstanding, the market’s owned-and-operated stations opted to stay with regularly-scheduled prime-time programming, reflecting the modest interest in the mayoral election.

The election fell in the February sweeps period for local news stations, as a number of big stories dominated the headlines locally – and also nationally. The arrests of Empire cast member Jussie Smollett for staging a fake hate crime attack and Grammy-winning artist R. Kelly for sexual assault took center stage as local stations covered both sagas extensively, pre-empting regularly scheduled programming at times, and were criticized for the sometimes tabloid-like coverage of both, especially Smollett’s case.

At the end of the day – or month, WLS came out on top in key early fringe and prime access (4-7 p.m.) time slots in households and in the key 25-54 demos. Even though WGN finished fourth in households in those same slots, the independent station finished first for its popular morning newscast in every hour measured from 4-10 a.m. in households and in the 25-54 demo. As Robert Feder notes, WGN had year-to-year increases in every hour.

At 10 p.m., WLS won with a 6.4/12, followed by WMAQ’s 5.0/9; WBBM’s 3.1/6; and WGN’s 2.8/5. WGN also won handily at 9 p.m. over WFLD.

Local news numbers from other local markets were also released from Pittsburgh and Dallas: you can read them here and here.

Nationally, CBS is expected to win in total viewers thanks to the Super Bowl, but also lay claim to the biggest flop on television so far this season with The World’s Best, which premiered after the big game. Wednesday night’s airing was hammered by Fox’s The Masked Singer, whose season finale topped the evening with a 3.1 rating in adults 18-49.

ABC also scored with the Academy Awards, drawing year-to-year increases with a quick-paced show without a host. The Oscars drew a 7.7 rating in adults 18-49 and 29.6 million viewers, far above my prediction of 21 million viewers. Even though the oft-criticized Green Book won for Best Picture, it was a strong night for women and people of color with Regina King taking home an Oscar for If Beale Street Can Talk and Spike Lee winning Best Adapted Screenplay for BlackKKKlansmen.